The Mischievous Bride

By: Teresa McCarthy

-Book 4-

The Clearbrooks

Chapter One





Regency England

She was in heaven. There was no place like London during the Season.

Fourteen-year-old Millicent Harriet Shelby smiled at her reflection in the colossal looking glass hanging in the Duke of Elbourne’s empty ballroom. She let out an exhilarating sigh as she batted her long lashes. Curly chestnut locks bounced about her heart-shaped face as she put her hands on her slim hips and conversed with her imaginary beau. “Why, sir, I am not that beautiful. You make me blush.”

She may not have lovely blond hair and sparkling blue eyes like her older sister Lizzie, but she was almost of age, and the world was hers to command!

Lifting up on her toes, she raised her delicate chin and narrowed her round gray eyes into two haughty slits, giving the invisible gentleman her most imperious glare. “My dear sir, no one is going to tell me what to do. No, indeed! How could you say such a thing?”

Dark brown brows dipped into a grim “v”. “Pshaw! You must be mistaken. My Papa will never decide whom I will marry like he has done with Lizzie. I make my own decisions.”

The sound of heavy footsteps made Milli jump. She frowned and looked quickly about the room. She would die if anybody saw her talking to herself, especially Stephen and his brothers.

It wasn’t as if she didn’t like Lord Stephen Clearbrook, the youngest of the four Clearbrook brothers, who was to marry her sister Lizzie. But he already thought her a bit silly, and she didn’t want him thinking she was an addlepated ninny. However, she had to admit, the man was as kind as he was handsome.

Since she had arrived only hours ago, she had met Stephen’s sister, Lady Emily, and her husband, Lord Stonebridge, but no one else. She wondered if the other Clearbrook brothers were as good looking as Stephen. The oldest, the Duke of Elbourne, was already married, but the other brothers were fair game. She had heard rumors they were tall, broad shouldered men with dark hair.

But drat! A room full of tall people was the last thing she needed! She hated being the shortest person in the room. Yet she consoled herself with her papa’s words. “Your heart is big, Millicent, and so is your personality. Not many females can say that, my girl.”

Milli tipped her head and studied her surroundings as she thought about her sister’s predicament. It seemed every matchmaking mama wanted her daughter to marry a Clearbrook. She guessed that was why Papa had moved so quickly with Lord Stephen, tricking him into the engagement with Lizzie.

Although Lizzie didn’t have an inkling that Stephen had been coerced into the engagement, Milli had a vague feeling Papa hadn’t been quite fair about anything regarding the arrangement. But some day Lizzie was going to discover exactly what Papa had done, and when that happened, Milli did not want to be anywhere near the fireworks.

Well, the fireworks probably wouldn’t happen for a while, she thought, and staying at the duke’s home while Lizzie weighed her engagement to Lord Stephen was going to be very interesting.

Her lips lifted into a wide smile as she tapped her slipper on the ballroom floor and listened to the soft echo pinging about the walls. There were so many places to explore in the mansion, it made her giddy.

She giggled in pleasure and twirled about the room. The duke’s home wasn’t as big as Papa’s, but it had the charm of a country castle.

Once again, heavy footsteps thudded down the hall, breaking into her reverie. She stopped dancing and listened intently, waiting for someone to tell her she wasn’t supposed to be there.

Her shoulders sagged in relief. Thank goodness, they were heading the other way.

With a shrug, she stared into the mirror again, scowling at herself and setting her chin into a stubborn line. It was hard to look important when she looked about ten years old.

She placed a small hand against the coolness of the glass, wishing she were taller. “La, sir,” she whispered, tilting her head. “I must inform you that I am going to choose my own husband, no matter how much money my father William Shelby offers you.”

Letting out a frustrated sigh, she dropped her hand. She adored Papa, but she was determined to love her husband, and he was going to love her!

She wasn’t going to have any of those marriages of convenience so common in Society today. Hopefully, Lizzie wouldn’t give in to Papa’s demands unless her union   with Lord Stephen was a love match.

Smiling, Milli spun on her heels, thinking if her sister married Stephen, the London ladies were not going to be happy.

With a few curtsies, Milli weaved about the grand space, finally letting out a shy laugh to her unseen partner. “Oh, you shouldn’t say such things, my lord. I daresay, you are quite forward.” She shook her finger at him. “Papa won’t like that.”

She chuckled softly, loving the sound of her slippers tapping against the marbled floor as she danced.

She raised her hands over her head, turned on her toes, and cackled like some silly London lady hunting for a husband. “Dear me. Not so fast, my lord. I can hardly catch my breath.”

She puckered her lips and kissed the air. She could smell the lavender she had poured into her hair this morning.

She twirled round and round, faster and faster, feeling the air whip about her cheeks, loving the freedom of the room.

"Well, well, what have we here?"

Milli came to a dead stop. She had been dancing in the ballroom by herself, pretending she was a beautiful ballerina when the most handsome man appeared before her like a prince in a fairy tale.

"Who are you?" she asked boldly.

"Your servant, Lord Marcus Clearbrook, mademoiselle. And you?"

So, he was one of Lord Stephen’s brothers. He probably thought she was a child.

She lifted her chin, her heart beating fast. The velvety sound of his voice was mesmerizing. "Miss Millicent Shelby."

She narrowed her eyes. He seemed rather daunting and very tall, with calculating gray eyes, eyes much lighter than hers, almost a smoky silver. There was also a certain command in the way he stood there, gazing at her. She could barely breathe, but she wasn’t going to let him know how much he affected her.

His black wavy hair was about the only thing that seemed a bit out of place. His fine black jacket and white cravat set off his straight nose and firm lips as if he were some majestic character in a Michelangelo painting.

She blinked, her stomach feeling strange. Those longs legs looked so powerful, he could probably sweep her off her feet without any effort at all. Although Stephen was quite good looking, she guessed Lord Marcus was the most handsome of all four Clearbrook brothers.

His black brows lifted. "Ah, Miss Millicent Shelby. Your sister is going to marry my brother, is she not?"

There was something hard in his voice that set Milli's teeth on edge. She wasn’t certain Lizzie was going to marry Lord Stephen at all.

But the way Lord Marcus was staring at her, she speculated the man was suspicious about his brother’s upcoming nuptials too. Lizzie was the best sister in the world, and Milli was not going to have this man hurt her. If Lizzie decided she wanted to marry Stephen, then Milli would see that she would! But whatever Lizzie decided, this man would not tell them what to do.

"Elizabeth is very pretty."

"Indeed."

"And very smart."

"Indeed."

"And very rich!"

The man’s eyes darkened. "Indeed," he drawled.

"Oh, you think I am a child, but I'm not. I'm fourteen and going to be fifteen next month."

His lips curved into a mischievous grin. "Indeed. Well, little ballerina, when you are out, may I ask you for a dance?"

Her eyes narrowed. He was making fun of her. "Indeed not! You are too stuffy, by far. Why, you are nothing like your brother at all. He is everything that is proper." She brushed past him and heard him chuckle.

"Good-bye, my little ballerina. I will be looking forward to that dance in a few years."

Before he could say another word, she ran into the hall and disappeared.

She could still smell the spicy cologne he wore and wished she were four years older! But Lord Marcus Clearbrook thought her a . . . a child! How horrid!

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